Ian McCulloch for Fulham Today...
To be described by Rochdale manager Steve Parkin as one of the best goalkeeper's he's ever seen, must come as a great boost if you've been limited to four first team appearances in the last two years. Offered the opportunity to sharpen his skills with the Third Division high-flyers, that's the situation that American international Marcus Hahnemann now finds himself in.
"I've gone to Rochdale on a month's loan," he said at Fulham's training ground this week, "And at the moment I've got one more game left to play. I was reluctant to spend too much time away from my family, but Steve Parkin was happy for me to spend one or two days training down here with Fulham, and then one day training a day or two before the game with them, so I took the chance.
"It's been very hectic, but every week is a different schedule. We've had a lot of mid-week games, so I've really only missed one training session a week with them. For example, after a game, I travel back Wednesday, train here on Thursday, go back up Thursday night, train with them Friday, play Saturday, come back Saturday night, and so on. There's obviously a lot of travelling back and forth, but it's worth it just to get the chance to get some games. I've played six times for them now, kept four clean sheets, and I've one match left."
It must have a big effect on confidence to get the opportunity to show you can do it in a live match situation, but Marcus modestly says that a lot of his good form is down to the ability of his colleagues.
"Rochdale are a very good team, they work hard and play well together as a unit. In the last game, I don't think I had a save to make, although I had to come for a few crosses in the last fifteen minutes which were pretty crucial in taking the pressure of the defence. After the game everybody's saying "Great game, Marcus", and I'm thinking that I didn't make a save. But that's a nice situation to be in. The team has been playing very well, has been very organised and efficient, and that's a good environment to be getting the best out of yourself.
"I've been pleased with my form, although there are always things you want to do better. I've made a couple of mistakes, and you try to learn from those. There are always going to be things that you aren't going to do perfectly, and how good you are depends on how you react.
"Playing in competitive games, even in the Third Division, is very different mentally from reserve games. There's a lot more pressure; winning the game is everything. There is a difference in standards, as we've seen stepping up from the First Division to the Premiership, it gets more physical the lower down you go. Although saying that Rochdale are a very good passing side, I was on the bench when we played against them in the Cup and I was very impressed. That helped me make up my mind when I heard they were interested in me. And I've been getting a lot of good feed-back from them up there, from the Manager and everybody, which is fantastic."
Marcus explained that the reason for the loan-spell was an injury crisis at Rochdale: "Their regular goalkeeper picked up an injury, a cartilage problem, so they needed cover for four weeks. At the moment though, his injury is taking longer to heal than they originally thought, but I've no idea what's going to happen after my last game. Steve Parkin has been rumoured to be going for the Barnsley job, and I don't know if Fulham want to let me go for another spell or if Rochdale can afford it, so it's all up in the air a bit at the moment."
The loan system is one that sometimes has its critics, but in this case it seems it's a situation where everyone wins. Marcus is clearly a believer.
"It's definitely helped me," he said. "I will have played seven games in a month, competitive games, two a week, and I haven't had much opportunity to do that for a while. I've really enjoyed it. We won at Luton the other week, it was a really good game and I picked up an injury, but I kept playing because it all meant so much. You can forget what real games are like when you're in the reserves.
"I can still feel the injury a bit. It was a through ball, and the guy slid in and caught my arm which twisted me round and I pulled a muscle in my side. It was just one of those things, although the ref gave the foul. My back went into spasm, and when I went to take the free kick, I just shanked it. So then I got plenty of "Dodgy Keeper" shouts from the crowd!
"The other good thing about going on loan, somebody said to me the other day about getting called up for the USA again. You know, I hadn't thought about it for ages, but to be playing games again is going to be a big help in getting me noticed. I still have ambitions to win more caps for the States. They're going to be taking three keepers to the World Cup, so there's no reason why I can't be one of them."
When, at the beginning of a brand new season in the Premiership, you discover that your Club has just spent £7million on one of the best keepers in the world, how hard is it to keep motivated?
"You definitely have days when it's difficult," said Hahnemann, "Because you can almost look on it as a hopeless situation. But you can't take that attitude, you can't go around feeling sorry for yourself. Once you realise that's what you're doing, then you've got to become more determined and get yourself focused. You've got to work hard every day in training because there's always going to be a chance that you're going to be called on, and you can't say you'll be ready in a month, you've got to be ready now. Injuries and suspensions happen and they can happen quickly. When that chance comes you've got to take it."
It sounds as though Marcus is taking his chance with both hands. As the rave reviews from Rochdale show, perhaps the Fulham fans have not yet seen the best of the big American. What's reassuring to know though, is that if called on, he'll be ready.